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Softball  . 

Competition and Rivalries Can't Come Between Friendship

by Brad Muller

Olivia Cook and Natalie Heath have been best friends since kindergarten. They grew up in the small town of Sharpsburg, Georgia, which has a population of less than 400 and gained some notoriety as a location for the filming of several episodes of The Walking Dead television series. Despite playing against each other at rival high schools, their friendship is alive and well as the sophomore infielders are teammates on South Carolina’s softball team.

“People on our team call us an old married couple,” Cook said with a laugh. “We may bicker with each other, but we’re always together. We show up to lift weights together. We run together. If one is invited somewhere, we’re both invited.”

“Yeah, you don’t see one without the other,” Heath said. “I think we’ve been through so much together, to the point that if we weren’t always going to be friends, it would have already happened,” Heath said. “I know it’s cheesy, but I really think of us as sisters at this point because we have truly been through absolutely everything together. I got hurt last year (shoulder), and it really took a toll on me. I don’t think I would still be here or doing my recovery process if it weren’t for her.”

Cook and Heath went to the same elementary school and started playing softball together when they were eight years old as Heath’s father coached one of the local teams. They would later win two travel ball national championships together.

Heath and Cook as kids
“We push each other so hard. We’re not the type of people that get jealous of each other.”
Natalie Heath  . 

The two split at high school with Cook starring at East Coweta High School and Heath doing the same at Northgate High School in nearby Newnan, Ga., but the rivalry never got in the way of the friendship. The two had planned to commit to a different university early in the recruiting process, but they talked through it together and decided to put off that decision until much later in their careers.

“It was my junior year that I committed in October (to South Carolina), and she committed that following January,” Heath said. “I had planned to commit to South Carolina for a while, and I was really pushing her to do the same. I kept telling her it was a really awesome school and that she should come.

“I was in Sam’s Club when she called me and told me she was committing to South Carolina. I was screaming and cried my eyes out!”

“Me and my mom and dad were driving back (from South Carolina) and we stopped at her house to celebrate with them,” Cook said.

The duo decided they would be living together on campus and immediately started buying stuff for their residence hall on campus. Interestingly enough, they both played third base in high school, but competing for the same spot on the same team only made the friendship stronger.

“I’ve played third my whole life,” Heath said. “We push each other so hard. We’re not the type of people that get jealous of each other. We hope for the best for each other.”

“In travel ball, I played first base and would catch, and in high school I played third,” Cook said. “I came in here catching, but now I’m moving more towards third.”

Cook and Heath Signing

While they are supportive of each other, they’re not above some friendly trash-talking.

“I make fun of her a lot,” Heath said. “She does this thing when she raises her voice, it drops about eight octaves. I will mock her every single time.”

“Natalie is a very ‘extra’ person,” Cook said. “She can be a little dramatic sometimes. I will call her out if she says something that’s not true.”

Sometimes living with your best friend can test that friendship, but the two Gamecocks, who now rent a house, say they’ve been able to work through any of the typical roommate problems to keep them inseparable, just like when they were kids.

“One of my favorite things that we did when were younger, along with some of our travel ball team, we were in California together and went surfing for her birthday,” Cook said. “Every year for her birthday, we go to escape rooms.”

“We were always traveling together for travel ball tournaments,” Heath said. “We would always visit cool places like Colorado, California, Oklahoma City.”

This year, the duo hopes to make it back to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series.

Both are studying retail with a minor in sport and entertainment management, but they want to go in different directions with their careers after college.

“I want to be a scout for a Major League Baseball team,” Heath said.

“I want to work at the corporate (office) for Chick-Fil-A,” said Cook.

“I’ll get her free tickets for games, and she can get me free Chick-Fil-A,” Heath added.

That’s what friends do.